3.1 or 2.1 Home Theater setup for desktop

So I am trying to setup my own hifi 3.1 setup (left,right,center,sub) and I was wondering how I should go about this. I have been trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can in doing this endeavor on my own, but I am left with so many questions and I would love to hear from others on their recommendations.

Now for the build I am running off a near $1000 budget and wouldn't mind it being cheaper than $500, but can work up to $1000. From what I have been reading, I think I would like to incorporate a tube amp instead of SS if possible, but it's not a requirement. I want the center speakers and the left and right speakers to hopefully not be too big as it needs to fit on a standard sized desk. Not that it needs to be stated, but high quality listening experience when at the desk is what I am aiming for. It'd be for everything (Music/TV/Gaming/Youtube Videos) I would love to hear everyone's suggestions.  

Also the center channel can be optional if that helps.
What you do and the way you go about it depends entirely on what kind of results are most important to you. If what you really care about is quality then the most important thing to know by far is you can have good, or you can have many, but you cannot have it both ways. 

Your $500 will buy you five $100 speakers, or two $250 speakers. Now which do you suppose will sound better? Two quality speakers will kick butt on any number of cheap ones every single time. 

Here's another one to keep in mind. The easiest thing in the world is to create a solid center image. You can do it with literally any two speakers. Heck I have even demonstrated it to people with walkie talkies. But hey don't take my word for it. Put two speakers on a desk at equal distance and hear for yourself. So you are right to consider the center optional. Cross it off the list. 

Same goes by the way for the sub. Which let's face it, its not even a sub. Sub is short for sub-woofer. Below the woofer. You're talking desktop. Desktop speakers do not even have a woofer to begin with! 

So put all your money into the two best speakers you can find. Forget desktop. Bookshelf. Now you're talking. There are some really seriously good bookshelf speakers out there for $500 to $1k. Buy or make some little stands to hold them at ear level a little above the desk, and if there's anything left over for some good wire do that, and be surprised how good it sounds. 

Whatever you do make sure the speakers you select are very efficient and easy to drive. You're smart to go with a small tube amp. But it can be hard to find a decent tube amp in your budget. You might- might!- be able to get better results with the whole budget going into the best most efficient and easy to drive pair of speakers you can find, and drive them right off the computer. Or whatever it is.  

If your plans include upgrades then for sure I think that is the way to start. Best speakers you can find, then take your time and add a tube amp when you can find- and afford- the right one. Then add some decent wire and you would have one helluva fine desktop system!
If you really want a center channel, probably the easiest way to do this is get one of the higher end multi-channel sound cards, such as one of these:

Creative Sound Blaster Z
Creative Sound Blaster Live! 5.1

Then you'd have to find 3 channels of tube amp and 3 speakers, plus a power sub.  The 3 channel solution is a lot more complicated.  Of course, you can get a 5.1 channel computer speaker system.  Logitech offers several options.

The 2 channel route will get you better sound quality.  You can start with a high end 2-channel sound card such as Asus Xonar Essence STX II or EVGA NU.   Or you can look for an external USB DAC.  You'd have to get a power sub and then look for either powered monitor speakers or speakers+amp.

$1,000 is not going to get you very far here, unless you go on the cheap.
I should mention that it's meant to be on a desktop, but the speakers don't need to be desktop speakers, rather I expected to go the way of bookshelf speakers. I just want that sub for good low end sound, also I know a decent amount of setups tend to use the sub as a sort of crossover/filter (still not sure on the correct terminology) as it picks what freq's stay and which go out to the left and right channels.
If you really want a center channel, probably the easiest way to do this is get one of the higher end multi-channel sound cards, such as one of these:

I'd prefer to avoid any internal components on my computer as their very well might be issues with space/open slots as well as compatibility with Linux as I go between using linux and windows.
Look into Sonos Playbar and Sub, this combination is super easy to setup. I have yet to hear anything at this price range that can rival its superb sound.

I have been using this setup in two of my rooms for last 12 years and never felt the need to try anything else. Visit Sonos.com for many speakers options to pair with their sub.


The problem with Sonos is that it only has HDMI/optical inputs.  No USB input.  Plus, if you really want a sub, $599 will get you a rocking Rythmic sub which is going to be a lot better than the Sonos for the same price.

I would do this in stages. Look for a USB DAC with a volume control.  These are a couple that are not too expensive (for what they are), but are about half your budget.  You can get them for less used on ebay or other sites:

Parasound ZDac
Cambridge Audio Dacmagic Plus

Both of these or USB DACS and have both XLR and RCA outputs that can be used at the same time.  Look for some nice powered monitor speakers.  Think Yamaha HS5 or other powered monitors.  You can add a powered subwoofer of your choice at any time in the future using the second set of outputs from the DAC.

Alternative, you could go for that tube amp and look for some nice bookshelves (Elac is the only one that comes to mind that is cheap enough but still very good).

You do not need USB input with Sonos. If I read OP requirements correctly, he will be connecting Sonos Playbar with his TV and for that all he need is optical input.

I am sorry to say, everything you have suggested has ‘clutter’ written all over it. Consider wires, space and synergy between the desktop speakers, sub and DAC. And then look at two piece Sonos setup.

For a compact 3.1 system with a sub, there isn’t anything better than Sonos. Great app, wireless connectivity Unless you try and listen, you just never know it’s true potential.
you will love a darn good office system.

I just set up my office, best sound I ever had here. first, I rebuilt/re-positioned my desk to allow a perfect equilateral triangle with my mains which are non-ported bookshelf speakers. I picked and bought used B&W D100i. (6-1/2" woofer size).

My desk is pulled back away from bookshelves on front wall, creating the triangle, leaving an aisle to access the shelves, but importantly allows locating my self-powered sub, old velodyne 12" re-coned, on the floor between the shelves and desk, tucked back, aimed sideways, simply adding low bass, not directional. I just add a bit of bottom with the sub, unaware unless you turn it off. wires from computer to sub, to adjacent bookshelves.

get the tweeters seated ear height as always.

separating low bass to the sub first, sending the rest to the amp/bookshelf mains is good, the amp and mains do not need to try and produce low bass.

four advantages:
1. bookshelf mains do not try to make low bass.
2. not trying to make low bass is how you successfully avoid bookshelf speaker designs relying on ports to try and make low bass
3. amp can be lower power, smaller, more affordable, more location options.
4. sub’s amp can be powerful to control woofer without costing a great deal.

I love tubes for my main music system, but you may want to rethink tubes, because the computer is on a great deal of the time, even when out of the office (the kitchen!), and when working, not listening, making heat, burning watts all the time.

I would not add a center channel to the mix, just get yourself the best centered listening position.

Prior to this, I was off-center and relied on the balance control to center things, ok, but centered for real is wonderful.

Video images perfectly centered to the sound is terrific.
To add to this. Seeing as 1000 isn't necessarily enough to build a whole system. Any recommendations on a start to building a whole high-end system. Maybe like a DAC, amp, and two bookshelf speakers with a path to get a sub later or DAC w/ amp and speakers with a path to later get a better amp and sub? This is all new to me, got a lot to learn so any help is appreciated.
@lalitk - "thatcdac" stated that these would be used on a desk and titled his post "desktop".  In a later post he somewhat confirmed his position on computer because he does not want to use an internal sound card on his computer because of technical reasons.  This leaves only the option of a USB DAC with a volume control.  I do not see anywhere that says this is a normal TV/entertainment setup.

@thatcdac - I agree that tube amp is not really recommended here.  You could go that direction, but the budget is going to be more like $1500, and that does not include a subwoofer.  Also, tube amps are going to be low power and tubes will start to saturate once they get past half of their power rating.

I'll repeat my initial DAC suggestions here (they are in the $500-600 retail area, but can be found for less used):

Parasound ZDac
Cambridge Audio Dacmagic Plus

The Parasound ZDac has a better stock power supply (internal linear power supply), but ZDac can only support audio files up to 24/96 resolution on the USB input (24/192 is not supported).

Cambridge Dacmagic Plus will support the higher 24/192, but comes with an external switching power supply adapter.  So the stock sound quality will not be as good as ZDac, but you can always upgrade this to something like a Teradak linear power supply (another $200-300).

For speakers, the easiest solution is to get powered monitors (speakers that have the amplifier built in).  My own personal recommendation is the Yamaha HS5, which retail for $400 a pair.  You can look at others if you want.  Then just get a couple of XLR cables and connect the DAC directly to these speaker - and you're done. 

Cost for this solution is about $1,000 (or just under).

Alternative, you could do a set of normal speakers and an amplifier here, but the budget is likely to go over $1,000 (probably something like $1200-1400).  Low cost amps are stuff like Parasound Zamp ($350) or Emotiva BasX-300 ($399).  Plus speakers.  A low cost bookshelf speaker that still sounds very good would be something like Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 at $349).

These are just different ideas on approach.  With these two DACs, you can always add a subwoofer to the system later on at any time.  A really nice reference subwoofer for the money is Rythmik Audio L12 for $559.  It's not really huge compared to other subs (14" x14" x 15.5"), but Rythmik is one for sound quality.  There are smaller subs you can get and also cheaper subs.
Seeing as 1000 isn’t necessarily enough to build a whole system. Any recommendations on a start to building a whole high-end system.
Already gave you exactly what you are asking for.

Plow your entire budget into the best most efficient and easy to drive bookshelfs you can find. Run them right off your PC until you can afford a tube amp. Integrated. Build from there.

Forget tubes at this price level and forego the center speaker, which will allow you to use a stereo amp and put more $ toward better L/R speakers. Plus, listening in the nearfield you’ll unlikely need a center speaker anyway. I’d get a PS Audio Sprout100, which takes care of your amp and DAC, and a pair of Silverline Minuets. Used you’ll be under $1000 and new $1300 and then just add a sub later when funds permit — for your application I’d get an SVS SB1000 that’s $500 new. This will give you a legit full-range 2.1 system that sounds amazing, and if you upgrade the amp/DAC later (tubes or otherwise) it’ll get even better.

If this is still too too pricey you could go with Wharfedale 11.1 Diamond speakers for $300 (on sale at Music Direct) and it’d still sound pretty damn good. Hope this helps, and best of luck.
I strongly agree with @soix .  I would start without the center speaker in such a small setup.  You can always add one later as funds allow if you really feel the need.  I use the Silverline Minuets as fronts in one of my HT systems (with a Silverline Center and a Paradigm Sub) and the result is great.  A tube amp will eat a lot of budget; save that for later and you can still have great sound